Questions arise in LPSB plan to consolidate local elementary schools

Glenview Elementary is one of the area schools that would be converted into a K-5 under the proposed plan. (Courtesy Photo)

By Vincent Grisby

Tensions were high at Tuesday night’s Lincoln Parish School Board meeting as the board considered a motion adopting a proposed Capital Improvement Plan for Ruston School District No. 1. 

By the end of the night, the motion was passed 7-4, but it didn’t come without much debate throughout the evening. A millage proposal will be voted on by parish residents in April that will determine whether the money can be raised to make the needed renovations for the plan to take place.

“(We are) trying make our schools a little more consolidated so that kids aren’t having to transition so much from one school to the other,” said Lincoln Parish School Board Superintendent Ricky Durrett.

In the current setup students have to transition up to four times during their elementary school careers: Glen View or Hillcrest (Grades k-2), to Cypress Springs or Ruston Elementary (Grades 3-5) to IA Lewis (Grade 6) and then to Ruston Junior High (Grades 7-8). The new plan would reduce the number of transitions by one during an elementary students career.  

The proposed plan would dedicate approximately $52.8 million to convert Hillcrest Elementary and Glen View Elementary into pre-K to fifth grade schools (the Lincoln Parish Early Childhood Center would be included in these plans). The funds would primarily be used to renovate both buildings to accommodate the larger amount of students, faculty, and staff. These funds would support (among other improvements) expanded cafeterias, parking lots, parent pick-up driveways, multi-purpose gyms, classrooms and playground equipment.

Under the current system, Cypress Springs Elementary School and Ruston Elementary School service grades 3-5, while Glen View and Hillcrest service grades K-2. The plan would also dedicate $4.9 million to convert the current Cypress Springs Elementary school into the new central office of the school board.

Following the introduction of the motion, discussion between the board was divided with members split between open support and deep skepticism.

“I wish we could table this issue until we could get some statistics, some analysis, some kind of information, that’s going to show us that what we’re doing is going to work,” said District 2 board member David Ferguson. “It’s found that when you take smaller kids, pre-K [for example], and you put them in a pre-K-5 environment and force them to learn, we’re going to lose them by the fourth or fifth grade. So we need to look at what we’re going to do.”

School board members George Mack Jr. and Dr. Danielle Williams also expressed skepticism during the open debate. Mack again raised the possibility of deferring the issue for further review, and Williams pointed to potential hangups involving state performance indicators for both grade 3-5 schools in the area.

Members of the public sitting in on the meeting were also vocal about a perceived lack of public deliberation on the plans, with one member of the public stating, “This seems like a pretty good chunk to just jump up and spend right now … it looks like you could’ve appointed some committees of local business people and parents and naysayers like me, to come up with the best plan and the best-working plan”.

Durrett raised the issue of commutes and school start times.

“Part of what I’ve heard from parents, teachers, people over the last two years is that we start school (too) early. We have kids get on the bus so early to get to school,” said Durrett. “We feel like it would be an advantage to our kids to let them sleep a little later, have them load up the buses and have them leave all from one school.”

Durrett clarified that the schools would maintain separation between lower and upper levels of the elementary school.

Further concerns were raised by public members in the meeting about the location of the consolidated schools. Both Glen View and Hillcrest are north of Interstate 20 — which splits Ruston geographically — while Cypress Springs and Ruston Elementary are south.

Durrett clarified that the cost associated with renovating both Cypress Springs and Ruston Elementary would be significantly more than the cost of renovating Hillcrest and Glen View.

“These sites were not chosen for demographic reasons, but because they were the best buildings in the area,” said LPSB President Joe Mitcham.

Clark Canterbury, Donna Doss, Debbie Abrahm, Gregg Phillips, Mitcham, Hunter Smith, and Danny Hancock voted in favor of the amendment, while Dr. Williams, Ferguson, Mack, and Lynda Henderson voted against it.